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The Lewis

Today in Masonic History we discuss The Lewis.

The Lewis was and is a tool used for lifting large objects.

The origins of the Lewis as an instrument used in operative masonry is lost to history. It is known that the Romans used it. It probably goes back even farther than that. In modern times different types of tools are still referred to as a Lewis, although how they are used differs from the earliest forms. The origin of the name Lewis is also lost to history. There are some who believe Lewis was actually a proper name, perhaps the inventor of the tool. Others believe it could come from the Latin leva to lift (also levavi -lifted and levatum - raised).

The types of Lewis include the external Lewis, chain linked Lewis, split pin Lewis, two pinned Lewis and the three legged Lewis. Regardless of the type of Lewis that is being used the principals of the operation of the Lewis remain the same. By the use of friction and the weight of the object being lifted a Lewis is attached to the object and hoisted into place by attaching ropes or other appropriate lifting mechanisms to the Lewis.

With the various types of Lewis, the most commonly referred to in Freemasonry is the three legged Lewis. This also goes by the names dovetailed Lewis, St. Peter's Keys and Wilson Bolt. The three legged Lewis was inserted in a properly cut hole in the top of the stone. The object was then lifted into place and made part of the structure.

In speculative Freemasonry a Lewis is the son of a Freemason who joins the fraternity. As an analogy it is commonly meant that the father raised (levatum) the son into position to take his place as part of the structure of Freemasonry.

Interestingly in descriptions of how ancient operative masons lifted the objects into place it is said that additional strapping is used to prevent a bump into scaffolding that would temporarily take some of the friction away causing the stone to fall before it could be placed. Extending the analogy of the Lewis in regards to speculative masons, the straps could be viewed as other members in the lodge who assist in the raising of the new stone into place.

Some jurisdictions provide Lewis jewels for their members. Requirements vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction as to what makes an individual eligible for a a Lewis jewel. It is almost always that the father and son are both masons. What can vary is when the father became a mason. In some jurisdictions it is required that the father be a mason before the son is born. There can be multiple drops on a Lewis jewel indication a lineage of family members going back several generations.